Call For Participation
The CS 1 WebToTeach Clinical Trial

Sponsored and supported by the National Science Foundation Additional support from: Sun Microsystems ( and Turing's Craft, Inc. (

      Computer science education suffers from a serious crisis-- a huge fraction of students planning a CS major drop the subject within the first two semesters of study. The retention crisis is even worse for female and minority students and so limits the diversity of the CS population.

      We can solve this problem by importing teaching methods from other subjects, in particular by strategically preparing large numbers of self-paced, highly interactive focused programming exercises that bridge gaps in readiness in undergraduates. To make this approach feasible, current web technology must be integrated into the CS pedagogy. We have done so by developing WebToTeach (WTT) is a highly interactive, web-based programming exercise system.. For students, WebToTeach provides a self-paced experience with the fundamental elements of programming, giving immediate feedback and hints at problem- solving. The programming tasks can range from micro-problems (a declaration, an expression, a statement) to multiple source file programs. Instructors using WTT have access to a roster that shows student progress and lets them access student submissions for each exercise. Preliminary experience suggests that WTT is helpful in improving retention and programming education in general. WTT is described in detail elsewhere (see references below).

      The initiators of this trial hope that the use of WTT exercises will significantly increase retention in CS 1 by making it possible for at-risk students to focus on, gain experience with and master distinct programming language constructs and programming concepts in an interactive context that avoids other conceptual distractions. For example, a student can gain mastery of assignment without worrying about i/o, or gain mastery of array notation without worrying about loops. This mastery will ultimately lead to better preparation for closed labs, lectures, and the standard homework assignments (which WTT does NOT replace!). To determine whether this is so, we are conducting a nationwide clinical trial for CS 1 classes that use C++ as a programming language. A specific set of several hundred mostly short focused exercises in C++, suitable for CS 1 is being prepared. We invite the participation of all those CS departments that meet our enrollment criteria. The trials will start in the spring semester of 2000 and are expected to continue through the spring of 2001.

Department Enrollment Criteria:
  1. Department has at least two equivalent CS 1 sections, using the standard (non-breadth-first) CS 1 curriculum with C++ as the language of instruction. "Honors" and "experimental" sections or any "special sections" are excluded from participation.
  2. Department and its instructors agree to permit the administrators of the trial to assign either Intervention A or Intervention B to each section on a randomized basis. Department recognizes and accepts that some of its sections will have different Interventions than others. Instructors recognize and accept that they will not be choosing the Intervention for their own section.
  3. Department will provide historical data on CS 1 sections (grade distribution, enrollment and withdrawal data, gender data) for the previous year. Department will provide outcome data according to the Intervention used.

(A) Each student is assigned a WTT student account with user-id and password. The instructor is assigned a WTT faculty account with user-id and password. The instructor provides information about WTT to the section. The instructor may delete up to 10% of the exercises for his or her section. The instructor must set up reasonable deadlines for the section. The instructor must clearly announce to the section that 10% of the course grade will be based on WTT (and the instructor must live up to that). The section web page (if one exists) must link to WTT. The exercises may be done in or out of a closed lab setting. The instructor or department will provide outcome data (final grade, withdrawal status, gender) on each student in the section.

(B) Standard CS 1 section, differing only from A in the absence of WTT. The instructor or department will provide outcome data for the section as a whole, but not on each student.

David Arnow, Dept. of Computer and Information Science,
Brooklyn College, Brooklyn NY 11230 USA

* The WebToTeach Project Web Page
* The CCLI Project Web Page
* fie99.pdf -- Paper on WebToTeach presented in FIE '99
* ITICSE99.pdf -- Paper on an application of WebToTeach (on-line testing) presented in ITiCSE '99